Awkward banter aside, jazz singer Diana Krall is in scintillating form

Canadian jazz singer Diana Krall. PHOTO: BRYAN ADAMS

Diana Krall - Wallflower World Tour

Esplanade Concert Hall/Tuesday (Feb 16)

If there were any Diana Krall fans on Tuesday night at Esplanade Concert Hall who still remember her disastrous show at Fort Canning Park in 2008, her latest concert would have entirely expunged whatever bad taste still left in the mouth.

Without an unsuitable venue, Formula One cars, annoyed fans sitting on tacky plastic chairs, and a flu bug to distract her, Krall was in the mood to show why she is considered one of the most prominent jazz artists of her generation.

In a hall her husband, singer-songwriter Elvis Costello, described as beautiful when he performed here in 2009, her 100-minute performance to a nearly full-house crowd was pretty much flawless, her rich, husky tones and piano-playing in top form. As bandleader, she was also generous in letting her excellent backing musicians shine and share the spotlight.

The setlist on the first of the Canadian jazz artist's two-night engagement here contained little from her latest album Wallflower's selection of pop classics from the 1960s to the 1980s, despite the show being named after it.

What the audience got instead was her distinctive take on a more extensive selection dating back to the traditional American pop songbook. There aren't many chart-topping acts out there who could get away with playing material from a variety of artists as disparate as Nat King Cole, Tom Waits and The Mamas & The Papas.

Krall might be known as one of the most successful female jazz artists in the last few decades, but as the gig shows, her repertoire is a lot more than just jazz standards.

The show opened with 1920s jazz standard Deed I Do, a sprightly number that showcased the synergetic interplay between Krall and her long-time guitarist Anthony Wilson, bassist Dennis Crouch, fiddle player Stuart Duncan, drummer Karriem Riggins and keyboardist Patrick Warren.

On Waits' Temptation, the most rousing number on the setlist, the stomping groove led to extended solos from all in the band. Earlier, Wilson and Duncan gleefully traded lines on jazz standard On The Sunny Side of the Street, from Krall's 1993 debut.

She and the band gave new life to Wallflower, the relatively obscure Bob Dylan track she named her album after, embellishing it with a country-like harmonies with Duncan singing backing vocals.

The Mamas & the Papas' California Dreamin' was haunting yet at the same time, quietly funky. As Krall explained later, she likes songs in the minor key.

She was also into showcasing her diverse influences, playing Joni Mitchell's A Case Of You and Cole Porter's I've Got You Under My Skin back to back during her four-song solo segment.

Krall, looking resplendent in a black dress, has never been the most eloquent singer when it comes to in-between song banter and what little she said to the audience was sometimes mumbled, rushed or borderline awkward.

But she was immediately at ease once the music start, at some points sharing a few laughs with her band and playfully adding the familiar strains of Bobby McFerrin's Don't Worry Be Happy in the middle of jazz staple Exactly Like You.

She could be sure she left her fans wanting her to be like no one else.

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